The daily paper ain’t what it used to be.

If you haven’t been a subscriber or reader of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in recent years, you’d be stunned with the three-section oddity with former stand-alone sections conjoined and consolidated like Siamese twins.

Happily, sports finally and deservedly has its own a stand-alone section. ;

The coronavirus pandemic, now into its third year, has dramatically affected advertising revenues, triggering downsizing of the paper’s space and staff; survivors earlier experienced “furloughs” reflecting a 20 per cent paycut.  And since last fall, the Star-Advertiser newsroom was virtually shut down, with most reporters working from home, saving office space costs for their employer.

It’s a worrisome challenge about what’s happening at the daily paper.

The Wednesday food tabloid — with earlier take-out restaurant offers– now is back to dine-in options, with the Sunday Dining Out tab (which was Dining In at the height of coronavirus) also resuming to peddle on-site dining.

For more than a year, a Saturday print edition was eliminated, so print signees have to navigate an online edition. It takes an effort to call up stories and the site boasts a recap of the Friday edition of USA Today.

The strangest calamity is Sunday’s Detours/Travel; it’s a features section with marginal focus, with some local articles, plenty of wire stories and puzzles. Since travel is returning as more planes fly, the pics of those travelers who’ve discovered a Hawaii shop or restaurant is the best link to life in the new normal.

As a lifelong print reader and a career journalist, I’m simultaneously concerned and dismayed that perhaps someday, the Star-Advertiser may become exclusively on-line.  It is simpler to manage, easily updatable, and likely an option to reduce further costs.

Longtime subscribers (me included) are largely seniors — old habits are hard to eliminate — and it’s no secret young folks don’t read newspapers. Repeating: Young. Folks. Don’t. Read. Newspapers.

Book buffs can relate; turning pages and enjoying the scent of a new volume is akin to flipping pages of a paper smelling like newsprint ink. Online and tablet-reading may be convenient but is not user-friendly.

Reading habits have dramatically changed over time. Remember when families could easily share sections— main news, sports, features, business  — because they were stand-alones. No more, however.

When the potential staff cuts were announced in the midst of the pandenmic, I was stunned to learn two columnists —Lee Cataluna and Christine Donnelly — were on the endangered list, but Cataluna revealed on her Facebook page that she chose to voluntarily exit the paper, to spend the summer completing writing projects (she’s a somebody, of course, in playwrighting) then joined the staff of Civil Beat in the  fall to resume her reportorial skills. Their win, a loss for the paper.

Donnelly’s retention meant that her Kokua Line column, which resolves and covers a myriad of community and governmental issues particularly important in these coronavirus times, continues. Smart move.

That Cataluna and Donnelly even were on the potential cut list in the first place was astonishing. They are essential in the content of a metropolitan daily. They bring daily sunshine into dark corners, providing the essence what a paper does. Inform, sometimes amuse; educate, sometimes entertain.

Content matters because it reflects who and what the paper is. In that sense, content should reflect the community, too,

From the perspective of someone who’s been part of the paper for nearly 60 years, 45 of which as a full-timer, it hurts personally to see the state’s lone paper is struggling. There used to be two, remember, the Honolulu Advertiser and the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Competition was essential in reportage; today, a monopoly rules.

As a cub reporter, at the smaller Advertiser morning publication, I was humbled to work and compete with the evening Star-Bulletin, which championed the race for a time. But the Advertiser, which for decades was a locally-owned and operating paper thanks to its late publisher Thurston Twigg-Smith, eventually surpassed the SB to become the dominant print voice in the state. The Advertiser also built a new press in Kapolei, shuttering the ancient behemoth on Kapiolani Boulevard and eventual vacating the premises now occupied by a business. Sad day for us oldtimers.

I think the Advertiser became the paper of choice over time because of its content, its diversity, and its esprit de corps.  It was always a fun place to work, with writers and columns that nurtured the publication’s growth.

Ironically, while in high school, I won a Star-Bulletin-supported scholarship to attend the University of Hawaii, and after I graduated, sought a job at the Bulletin. But there were no openings then, but the Advertiser did, and I was hired.

It was thrilling to be in the circle of local talent that filled the pages of the Advertiser. Surely, you remember Bob Krauss, who wrote about his family a lot (in the old days, his column was titled “In One Ear”) but he chronicled trends and notables in the community thereafter.  The paper hired a married couple, Ele and Walt Dulaney, who put a spin on local advice for youths —diversity in action, since she was Japanese and he was haole.

Then there was the dean of the three-dot column, Eddie Sherman, who dropped bold face names of the famous and infamous, an inspiration in my eventually destiny at the paper.

And there was the unlikely but fabled Sammy Amalu, the only ex-con columnist in Hawaii’s history, who shared his love particularly of things and themes Hawaiian.

Harry Lyons was the resident editorial cartoonist (OK, the Bulletin had a dandy, too, in Corky Trinidad) and both artists created powerful cartoons — with politicos eager to purchase their original cartoons that appeared in the editorial pages (or accompanying news or features in both papers). When both died, their slots were not filled.

You remember the queen of household hints, Heloise? She authored the Hints from Heloise column in the Advertiser —a feature so popular, it was syndicated —and certainly the most famous of the Advertiser alumni.

And my buddy, Scoops Casey Kreger, authored the Ms. Fixit column, which competed with the SB’s Kokua Line originated by Harriet Gee. These Q&A columns probably were the most popular in the paper’s content because they tackled everything from governmental red tape to complaints about potholes to wee-hour noisemaking.

Among other notable Advertiser columnists was Cobey Black, whose profiles and interviews of the rich and famous were part of the feature section.

That was the community I knew in my early years at the Advertiser. It was Buck Buchwach, a managing editor who became editor, who tapped me to become the Advertiser’s first and only entertainment editor-columnist. He nurtured and shaped Sherman’s column, thanks to his interest in the Hollywood scene prior to his Hawaii residency, enabled a local boy to carry on the tradition.

Regular entertainment news and features are a rarity these days; while theater and clubs are beginning to bloom and rebuild, movie screens have reopened with mostly scanty titles and the occasional blockbuster like “Spider-Man” and “The Batman.”  What the pandemic has done is to impact movie-going is clear. Most folks stopped going to a theater during the crisis and got accustomed to streaming films on TV instead. Old habits don’t die, but they kill businesses attempting to reestablish old hangouts.

The performing arts have been a stepchild in recent years, battered by the pandemic, but have never had the muscle, or moolah, to become a resonant and relevant voice in the community. Artists and their expression are vital in media; the paper’s role in this process has been erratic and dismal during the pandemic, Remember TGIF, the weekly tabloid over the decades? It was aborted before the pandemic and replaced with a broadsheet, which was halted during the cutbacks and never restored. Sad.

But when you’re the only game in town, you’ve got power and prowess to set your own rules.

Notice? If you call the paper or a reporter these days, there’s a security tier that blocks your access unless you have had previous minimal clearance.

It’s no longer easy to communicate, even if communication is the core and the heart of a thriving publication.


  1. This reads like an Obit for Journalism in Hawaii. I wish those in the upper echelons would take a few mornings off and visit all the little coffee shops in all the islands. They will see the most loyal readers of their paper, since their youth and now in their golden years, sitting with the paper, a cup or two of coffee and ending their coffee with the crossword puzzles. I’ve heard of many who used to uphold their Christmas tradition by having their first cup of coffee with Harada’s Christmas poem every Christmas Eve. Using the pandemic holds little weight. I wish, when it comes to opting for the humanistics vs. net profit, they wouldn’t go for the dollar signs. They owe Hawaii’s residents more.

  2. What is so concerning is that it’s mostly about the bottom line nowadays, cutting costs, turning reporters into a virtual work-at-home team. It also reflects a don’t-care attitude; if you don’t recognize or are aware of holes in your sinking ship, you won’t be able to get those rescue ships afloat. It’s clear that other media — and lord knows there are plenty, to suit all age groups — have bypassed traditional print publications for online, streaming, social media and other resources. I like to think that some reporters care about what’s happening but are too afraid to voice an opinion or rock the boat. So I am saddened by the degradation of the publication I was associated with for more than 50 years,

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